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China, Russia Open Cross-Border Bridge Amid Sanctions, Criticism

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SINGAPORE – The first highway bridge connecting China and Russia opened Friday, the first day of the 3-day Shangri-La Summit in Singapore. Construction of the bridge was completed two years back, but it remained unused because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The timing of its opening is significant. Russia and China have come under severe criticism at the summit, and analysts say the bridge is a signal China can help Russia navigate economic sanctions.

The opening comes just one month after a railway bridge linking the two countries was inaugurated. The road bridge in northern China, called the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe Bridge, will carry vehicles across the Amur River. The toll bridge can accommodate 630 freight trucks, 164 buses and 68 other vehicles daily, the Moscow Times reported.

FILE - Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, left, and Minister for the development of the Far East and Arctic Alexander Kozlov visit the bridge across the Amur River on the border between Russia and China in the city of Blagoveshchensk, Russia, Aug. 17, 2020.

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Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who attended the inauguration ceremony by video link, made it apparent the bridge has political and diplomatic significance apart from trade.

Hu said China is ready to meet Russia halfway, and the bridge’s opening will help to achieve the goal of mutual connectedness.

Even after the invasion of Ukraine, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to raise their mutual trade from $147 billion in 2021 to $250 billion in 2024.

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The two countries also plan to establish a cross-border economic cooperation zone near the bridgehead “to facilitate comprehensive cooperation” and promote the development of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership, according to CCTV, the official broadcaster in China.

But both the road and railway bridges will be used to a limited extent because China has not fully lifted restrictions it imposed on transportation, among the other business segments.

Russian Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev said that the opening of the road bridge would increase bilateral trade between Russia and China. “Today marks the start of stable daily transport links between our countries,” Yekaterina Kireeva, the Amur region’s senior economic development official, told Interfax, the Russian news agency.

The road and railway bridges were built as part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative. Russia had been reticent about allowing large-scale Chinese investments under the program. But after the Ukraine invasion, Moscow changed its stance and invited Chinese companies to invest in infrastructure.

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